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Uranium ship likely coming to Vancouver for spill cleanup

By Cassandra Kyle, Postmedia News, January 20, 2011

SASKATOON — A ship whose cargo of uranium concentrate spilled during bad weather at sea last month will likely be moved to the Port of Vancouver for cleanup, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission says.

A cargo ship containing spilled uranium concentrate is back at a Canadian port while a Cameco Corp. team assesses damage to its product and plans a cleanup program.

In a regular public meeting broadcast online Wednesday, commission staff members did not give a timeline for the transfer of the ship or say how long the cleanup could take.

They said the spilled uranium concentrate, also known as yellowcake, poses no risk to the ship's crew, the public or the environment.

The Altona left Vancouver on Dec. 23 en route to Zhanjiang, China, carrying 770,000 pounds of uranium concentrate in roughly 840 drums.

On Jan. 3, after travelling through days of bad weather, the crew of the Hartmann-Reederei-owned ship notified Saskatoon-based Cameco Corp.'s that several of its sea containers had shifted and a number of drums had fallen out.

It was travelling between Hawaii and the Midway Islands Cameco asked the Altona to turn around and set a route back to Canada.

Uranium concentrate is considered to be "mildly radioactive." The radiation a person standing four to five metres from a drum would receive would be the same as everyday background radiation levels, officials have said.

The ship is docked in Ladysmith, B.C., where it was met on Sunday by Cameco, the commission and Transport Canada crews. A detailed cleanup plan is being developed.

Cameco said Tuesday it is working with the customer that was expecting the uranium on a new shipment date.

Alice Wong, Cameco's vice-president of investor, corporate and government relations, told the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission during the meeting Wednesday that the company prepares the uranium itself for overseas shipment.

In this case, the drums contained yellowcake from northern Saskatchewan that was milled and packaged at Cameco's Key Lake facility.

The drums were packed inside the sea containers at Key Lake before being shipped to Cameco's Saskatoon warehouse.

Once in Saskatoon, Wong said, the shipment was checked again to ensure it was still safely packed.

From there, the sea containers are either sent to port or back to Key Lake to be re-packed.

Wong said the spilled uranium concentrate inside the Altona will be safely sent back to the Key Lake mill for re-packaging or re-processing. All drums, she added, will be checked for damage.

To date, the Cameco and federal teams inspecting the ship at Ladysmith have only been able to see the damage to the first few containers in the cargo hold. Eventually, the teams will be able to examine all of the containers in the hold.

The CNSC said a tarp has been placed over the spilled yellowcake to prevent its movement. All of the spilled concentrate is confined to the cargo hold.

The CNSC said Cameco imports or exports 500 sea containers full of uranium concentrate annually. Thirty-five drums can fit in each container.

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

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